monkey insurance


Samson told her about it when she came on shift in the morning. Showed her the tip to prove it too. Said that halfway through the graveyard shift two men slipped him a ten-ski to help them schlep a coupla crates onto the elevator and run them up to six. The second ten on the way down was to keep his mouth shut. Sammy said, real quiet and serious-like, “That kind of money hadda be mob or movies. Maybe both.”

Naomi Lawless (which was the name she was using for when she got discovered) was pretty sure she didn’t believe him. After all, what were the chances of real movie people turning up? The Excelsior was about as backwater as things got: a fleabag snoozing on the corner of Bumfuck and Boredom.

By mid-afternoon though, she figured he might be right. A fleet of battle-wagons, the kind with drivers in uniforms, were docking at the curb.

Naomi watched couples alight, the women sagging a bit, making the last stop of the Friday night party circuit on Sunday afternoon. Exotic birds bundled in furs, in the mid-May heat. Faces hidden by hats with veils. The men dressed in rumpled dinner jackets and sunglasses, hurrying the women into the shadows of the foyer and onto the elevator.

She ferried them up to six all afternoon. Whispers and giggles, winks and blushes. More than once the door to 6B swung open long enough for her to taste a thick curry of smoke, sweat, and scotch.

Finally, near the end of her shift she got bold enough to wedge the door on her elevator and follow a couple into the room.

Standing on tiptoes behind the circle of watchers, peering over the shoulder of a fat man with a Brownie she saw a hazy circle of light on the bed. Peaches and cream entwined and moving. Unfamiliar bodies. Familiar faces.

Actually, very familiar faces. Naomi Lawless knew them all. In fact, a bunch of those faces were the same as those she’d snipped out of magazines and taped to her bedroom wall. All glossy and fine. The women mysterious. The men with their pants on.

She slumped against the wall in her elevator after the last of the furs were escorted out. She collected her thoughts while she counted the rumpled money in her jacket. On the way down they’d all pressed ten-spots into her sweaty hand. “Monkey Insurance,” one face said. She knew what that meant—Speak no evil.


fried oyster


Douglas shot the cuff on his tunic and glanced at his most prized possession and freaked. His brand new, twenty-five karat, Rolez Oyster (the one he bought off Benny the dishwasher) showed 4:39. He was late.

He looked at the chef’s list and the scrawl swam—so much to do and no fucking time. His adrenaline surged and his stomach rolled. Time to resort to emergency measures.

When Mickey, the sauté guy on his right, turned his back, Douglas ‘borrowed’ a cup of flour from his station.

Douglas checked the recipe and to save time he swiped the eggs he needed from the pastry station. He put his glittering timepiece on the shelf above his station and made his batter.

What Douglas didn’t realize was Mickey witnessed his thefts reflected in a sheet pan. Now, anyone who can make a positive ID from a reflection in tarnished aluminum is a person with a sharp eye—and in this case a subtle and vindictive mind.

Douglas finished his batter, washed up, and hurried downstairs. He was concerned that he hadn’t tested the batter. There just wasn’t time. He would have to risk it. In the walk-in fridge he rummaged for a bucket of de-veined jumbo prawns—the last ingredient he needed to prepare the Deluxe Deep Fried Seafood Combination Platter he was responsible for that night.

Back upstairs, he slopped the plastic bucket of prawns on the counter and looked up to the shelf to check the time. His pride and joy was nowhere to be seen. He searched the counters and the floor—nothing. Close to panic, he was on his knees rooting around in the reach-in fridge when he heard the slap of a plate hitting the counter above him—followed by a snicker.

Douglas crawled out of the small refrigerator and rose. The first plate of the night steamed on the counter. Mickey had done him a favor. He had tested the batter for him. His deep fried Rolez oyster was a crispy, golden brown. It was centered on the plate and garnished with a slice of lemon and a sprig of parsley. Douglas thought the presentation left something to be desired,  but he was relieved. Even though he didn’t know what time it was, he was sure the batter was going to hold just fine.




Bone watched her when he could. He knew something was hinky; he just couldn’t say what it was. Sharon would order, say, two manhattans up. He’d pour and she’d plop in a coupla cherries. Biz by the book. Right?

But he noticed—sometimes—not always—she took an olive or a lime or maybe twist on the side. What was that about? Was she garnishing drinks by multiple choice? He couldn’t figure it. After all these years he was sure she knew which fruit went with which drink.

At the Madhouse all the servers had their own spaces in the wait station or the kitchen. Nothing special, just little nooks and crannies they used to stash the stuff that was too much hassle to drag around in an apron all night. Credit card vouchers, cigarettes, extra pens, maybe a personal supply of demitasse spoons and more often than not maybe a little taste of something nice to be sipped at or saved for later. Items stored in these spaces were sacrosanct. It was more than the Golden Rule. Whether they were hidden or in plain sight, no one fucked with them. Ever.

Prime spaces passed from server to server. When Albert was working he took the space between the ice tea and the coffee filters, right next to the computer terminal, as his own. If Albert wasn’t working that space belonged to Thea. And on the rare occasions when both Albert and Thea were off, the slot belonged to Nick. It was sort of a sliding scale of seniority measured in convenience.

Sharon had been at the Madhouse a long time. But she still had the worst space. When Donna quit she could have taken the one next to the register. That would have given her easy access to the thick pile of guest checks she needed to keep track of each night.

Or when April went back to school, Sharon could have insisted on her space in the service bar and saved herself some extra steps. But she didn’t. She preferred the same old slot she’d had since she was a rookie. This was in the kitchen next to the ice machine—a long walk down a long hallway.

Bone wondered and watched. Finally he nailed it when he saw Sharon in the dressing room with a brown bag. He knew the scam. She was making her own drinks. Safeway vodka—no doubt soon to be Stoli in the dining room. Neat, he thought. Now the Madhouse had two service bars. He could live with that. The only change he was going to insist on was a two-dollar tariff on lemon twists and olives.




When you’re behind the only way to catch up is to slow down and make every move count. As an experienced server Kenny knew this, but he didn’t—slow down that is. He hurried and the order of escargot, six snails, in his right hand popped and rattled in its sizzling metal tray as he pounded through the kitchen and into the dining room. It was okay. He was watching what he was doing and he knew how slippery those little cephalopods could be.

In his left hand he transported a big flat bowl of lobster bisque. Thick and orange. Kenny knew that in an unsteady hand soup will slosh. Sloshing leaves high tide marks on the edges of white bowls. Untidy stains like that were severely frowned upon in the Chez Madeleine dining room.

Kenny made sure the snails were safe during his balletic transit of the dining room. He presented himself table-side and prepared to serve the plate to a woman in a white suede jacket. As he did, the unwatched soup bowl did a slo-mo tilt. Kenny didn’t see it, but he felt the weight of several dozen reduced lobsters shift in the bowl and he reacted quickly, recovering the balance in the nick of time.

However—one hot snail tumbled and dropped onto the white table cloth.

The errant escargot landed and bounced. Melted garlic butter (with fines herbes) rooster-tailed from the rolling shell. The woman in the white suede jumped and emitted a Potemkin silent scream.

Kenny froze. Froze is different than slowing down to make every move count. Froze is what bunnies do in headlights.

When the maitre d’ got to the table the husband was on his knees with a napkin brushing at a spot of garlic butter (and fines herbes) about the size of a pinhead. The woman had found her voice and was loudly explaining to everyone in the neighborhood that Kenny had grotesquely stained her white suede bolero. She didn’t seem to appreciate how lucky she was. She’d come ever so close to wearing an orange and white creamsicle jacket.